What's on a Nutrition Label?

If you can learn how to read a nutrition label, you'll be able to choose healthier foods that contain ingredients that will nourish your body. 
What's on a Nutrition Label?

Last update: 12 April, 2019

Recently, our diets have been changing drastically, and it’s not always for the better. This is due to the fact that most daily diets are enriched with saturated fats and refined sugars, which cause a lot of health problems. That’s why it’s important to understand how to read a nutrition label.

The significant and troubling increase in chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and dyslipidemia (excessively high levels of cholesterol or fats in the blood) in developing countries has caused global alarm.

This has caused many international bodies, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to urge governments to take specific actions to promote nutrition education among the population.

That’s when knowing how to read a nutrition label comes in as a didactic tool. There’s a very simple reason: it helps consumers choose the healthiest foods for their bodies. 

What is a Nutrition Label?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines nutrition labeling as the black-and-white box that’s attached to food and beverage packages. The FDA ensures that this instrument can be used as a practical guide. The goal is that the label will help you make decisions that may affect or benefit your long-term health.

Overall, good nutrition will be very beneficial for your body. It will help you prevent and control the symptoms of certain diseases like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart problems, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

For these reasons, you should spend a few seconds reading the information on the nutrition labels on products in the supermarket to pick the healthiest options.

Why Are Nutrition Labels Important?

A couple is reading a nutrition label.

The main purpose of nutrition labels is to inform the consumer about the nutritional properties of the foods at the supermarket.

Reading the labels has the following advantages. They help:

  • Inform the consumer about the ingredients of food and drinks in a simple and clear way. It allows consumers to make decisions about their diets according to their needs.
  • Provide effective way to display the nutritional content of food on its label.
  • Display useful information if you suffer from any allergies or intolerances to a particular ingredient. That way, you can avoid any future complications or negative reactions.
  • Implement solid nutritional principles for the general public as a whole.
  • Promote better production practices. Since manufacturers have to state what’s inside of their products and the consumer can see the ingredient list, they’re more likely to choose higher quality ingredients.

How to Read Nutritional Labels

It’s important to learn how to correctly read a nutrition label. This information will help you make the right food decisions that will most benefit your health.

1. Find the Serving Size

This is a food pyramid.

The FDA explains that the serving size and number of servings per container is located at the top of the nutrition label. This is key to understanding the rest of the information on the label.

  • This number indicates that the food’s nutritional information, such as calories, fiber and sodium, is based on portions.
  • Therefore, if you eat two servings of a product, you’ll consume twice the calories and double the number of nutrients. This could either be good or harmful, depending on the food.

That’s why it’s important that you know the serving size. That’s the only way that you’ll know the exact number of calories and nutrients you’re eating daily.

2. Find the Number of Calories

Calories may be labeled as ‘energy value,’ ‘energy content’ or ‘total energy’ on the nutrition label. Regardless of what it’s called, calories are the amount of energy the food or drink will give us per serving.

  • They can be listed as Kilocalories (kcal) and in Kilojoules (kj), which is what we usually call calories.

Additionally, the FDA states that daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, they clarify that your nutritional needs will depend on how physically active you are.

Therefore, they recommend going to a specialist in this topic. That way, you’ll determine the amount of calories per day that will work best for your body. 

3. Learn How to Use the Percentage of Daily Value

A woman is thinking.

The FDA emphasizes that this data is based on the amount of a certain nutrient that we need daily. The percentage tells us how much of that amount we’ll get from one serving of that food product. That way, you’ll be able to maintain a healthy diet.

They recommend that you use this part of the label to help you choose foods that are rich in the nutrients that you should consume more often. They will also help you recognize the foods that you should eat less of.

Some of the nutrients that you should consume daily, and in adequate amounts, are: calcium, fiber, vitamin A and C, as well as potassium, but it’s not as necessary.

On the other hand, they suggest that you reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. However, you should remember that each body has different needs. A nutritionist can help you figure out your exact dietary needs, both regarding which kinds of foods you should eat and how much of them.

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